From “Geek” to Chic

March 4th, 2017

How to increase female student interest in computer science by changing your classroom environment…

by Kent London, Director of Educator Success at Nextech

From Fort Wayne to Tell City and nearly everywhere in between, I travel the state of Indiana visiting high school computer science (CS) teachers for Nextech, identifying curriculum and professional development needs, gaps in CS pathways and ways to increase teacher capacity and capability. In 90 percent of the classrooms, I inevitably find Star Trek, Star Wars and Pokémon posters or other typical male-dominated “geeky” items; stuff girls don’t necessarily relate to. Is that to say girls aren’t interested in those things? No. However, studies from Stanford and the University of Washington suggest these environments are not conducive to attracting females to computer science. Studies also show a 34 percent drop in interest and enrollment in CS courses for girls once they hit 13.

The bottom line
One sure fire way to increase female interests in computer science courses is to change the classroom environment from geek to chic. Studies indicate female students are turned off by purely masculine objects in a CS classroom. Such visuals give female students the perception they do not belong.

Small adjustments to the environment—like adding art posters or replacing sterile book shelves filled with technical manuals with a lamp and some generic novels—can increase female likelihood of enrolling in a CS course by almost three times. Eureka! That means changing your classroom in these small ways could increase your female enrollment from three to five female students per class to 9-15.

Small Changes can Equal Huge Impact
Currently Indiana shows female student participation rate of 18 percent. A small change in classrooms statewide could increase female participation rate to 420 students–equating to a nearly 50 percent participation rate. In turn this increases access to one of the fastest growing career fields in the state and helps reduce the gap between CS jobs and qualified candidates.

So, let’s drop the geek and get to chic to we can get more girls in the CS classroom.

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